Wednesday 20 November 2013

Can there ever be a deed as dark as this?

Back in the school days we played a what-if game: what if a Caesar or an Alexander the Great had tanks, or jet fighters? And so we imagined all kinds of situations the Germanic tribes or the Egyptians would have had to deal with.

Of course, it was silly. If metallurgy, or aerodynamics had evolved sufficiently, the other side would have had something similar and so the advantage would not have been of the kind we boys indulged in.

Today we invent a new material almost every month. We know more and more about galaxies far away. We experiment with the atom. Our literature, our art, our very way of thinking expands into areas that were hidden even from our phantasises not so long ago.

All this is possible because of minds who over the generations have processed and manipulated information discovered by those before them. The more there is known the greater the opportunity to explore further still.

For Europe it began in the 17th century when individuals here and there dared to step beyond the confines their church had manufactured. Like an animal reared in captivity which can't believe the space outside its cage is real, most huddled fearfully within the prison that was built around them. Yet Descartes, Spinoza, Newton, and later Maxwell, Euler, Bohr and all the others made use of the freedom which at first seemed so alien.

At first retribution had been swift, for a Galileo as well as for a Giordano Bruno. Galileo, the rational scientist, relented and hid his notes for later while suffering house arrest. Bruno, the fiery monk, did not and was tortured by the Inquisition for eight years before finally burned at the stake.

For a thousand years the darkness was thrown over the European mind, and for a thousand years a curios intelligence was treated to cruelty only those inspired by a god can invent.

Now consider: if four hundred years of science have resulted in our current state of knowledge, where would we be today if the entire process had started around 500CE? If particle colliders had been around in 900CE? If Otto the Great would have been on Facebook? If the plagues had been treated with modern medicine?

Furthermore, if the intelligent minds then had been allowed to continue from the discoveries of ancient Greece and Rome?

Conjecture is fraught with danger if it is done on a small scale. But just as all the variance contained within the space of two thousand years is so abundant, so is the potential of its posited version. Hence this kind of musing is justified.

And so I ask: what abhorrence is it that engulfs an entire continent in such darkness for a thousand years?

Tuesday 16 July 2013

The strange things white people do

In this 21st century there are a number of things - mannerism, customs, call them what you will - that white people have adopted which must seem quite strange to the rest of the world.

They developed gradually; they didn't drop from the sky. Yet they are firmly established though by no means shared by every citizen. Here they are, in no particular order:

An obsession with finding faults in one's own culture. At the same time similar problems, many of them far worse, are blithely ignored in others, or at the very least couched in strenuous euphemisms to avoid even the slightest hint of sounding critical.

An intense, almost adulatory focus on mediocrity while being fearful of acknowledging intelligence and hard work and the role they play in achieving success. The former is turned into a virtual badge of honour, the latter treated as something almost shameful. While rising above adversity should be valued, the current package, broadcast ad nauseam, has turned dysfunction into a prerequisite for social status.

A genuflecting, adoring attitude towards indigenous people, the only remnant of humanity that did not even reach the pastoral stage. On the other hand there is virtually no entity - whether corporation, university, government - which does not emphasise the need to innovate, to stay a-breast, to remain competitive. Sometimes even a month's worth of disengagement is seen as a disadvantage and here there are people who haven't changed for tens of thousands of years. What irony: the more competitive and hence successful one is the higher the taxes and therefore the more money these individuals pay towards the million-dollar packages shunted towards the few percentage points representing an indigenous population.

The embrace of the ideological side of feminism. Is there any Western TV commercial in which the male is not the idiot while the female is the all-wise, all-knowing one? The adulation of the Child has created youngsters, and by now already adults, who are self-obsessed, pampered, and indulge in habits which have led to epidemics even. For the first time in recorded history the next generation is feared to have a lesser life expectancy than their parents through their self-imposed habits. Teachers are being assaulted in classrooms by their pupils. Responsibility has given way to Rights.

The fear of sex. Drawn from the historical background of Middle Eastern myths spreading into Europe at the time one would have thought the phantasies have been more or less dealt with. Combine this with the feminists' vision of the Child and the celebration of victimhood and touching one piece of skin is fine but move along a few centimetres and the result is supposed to be a life-long trauma, obsessively protected and eagerly paraded in public awaiting the payouts. Hysteria and its protagonists enjoy celebrity status but the voices of calm and reason are howled down in the melee.

As said before, it wasn't always so. Presently however there is no Western government that does not have a problem with its budget because of piled-on demands by special interest groups, and the shift in power and influence from Western demographics towards others, more viable ones, is on the way. The disrespect can manifest through military attacks, the organisational framework surrounding refugees of any kind, the laying-down of rules deciding cross-border initiatives, the violence perpetrated by outsiders within their host nation.

All of the above are factors that influence the very foundation on which a society rests. It is sad to observe such degeneracy when its causes are so, well, downright stupid.

Friday 21 June 2013

Creativity - and its dark side II

The functional details described in the previous blog, Creativity - and its dark side I, can also be found on the larger scale. As we move from the individual to groups, to demographics, to society and beyond, affinity relationships between clusters and their latent and manifested versions can be identified too.

The larger scale does change the dynamics somewhat, if not in functional terms then certainly as far as their content is concerned. Instead of neurons we have people, the domains become demographics (ie, like-minded individuals), and the affinity relationships concern the ideas and concepts shared by their members. Communication does not occur via synapses but across the channels a society's infrastructure makes possible and which are used by the groups. Therefore what gets transmitted and how becomes once again a matter of affinities since such relationships in effect rely on the inherent nature of the former; that is to say, their functionalities.

How these interactions go through their paces is outlined below.

On the larger scale of wider society the variety of its members and the level at which the particular functionalities manifest become significant. The conscious is now the space of openly communicated ideas and concepts, the subconscious is found in the realm of the unstated, the hidden.

Just as in the single mind, the hidden is outside the direct control of regulatory processes but it still exists, takes part in information processing, and every now and then steps into the open. To what extent it is allowed to spread and so participate further in the explicit, depends on its neighbours and how their affinity potential is capable of interacting with a similar potential on the explicit's side.

The probabilities here follow similar comparative ranges to those on the small scale, and here they are influenced by the size of the population, the quality of infrastructure, and the quality and quantity of information as such.

The regulatory processes in the single mind, consisting of the conscious thought structures (TSs) with their affinities and relationships and honed through many years of exposure to society's mores and fashions, have their equivalent in the open. Here they are derived from our laws, regulations, and what is loosely called the zeitgeist. While they determine what is openly said and done, underneath their watch large-scale cognitive dynamics take place nevertheless. How well they are kept invisible is a matter of, once again, affinity relationships.

In this case however it is not the existent affinities which in the main define their visibility or otherwise, but the non-existent, latent ones. That is to say, the greater the number of such contact points between the visible and invisible clusters, the more hints can be expected for an observer to become aware of something more behind the immediate. Of course, like in any interaction between functional entities in a dynamic system, the outcome depends on their mutual relationship: the observer is as much part of the scenario as is the observed.

Descriptions, arguments, battles even, regarding the visible manifestations of the large-scale cognitive dynamics are conducted with the actor usually oblivious to the much larger realm of the unstated, and if someone should refer to them they leave themselves open to criticism - the aspect of intrusion being more decisive than any truth value.

Similarly, the dynamics resident in the single mind are also active. They inform the individual's response to any event, and in their aggregate form influence the ambience of wider society, or at the very least some part of it.

The overall ambience colours the wider space, which in turn evokes the affinities down to the small scale, which then become the source of further input to the wider space; the circle has closed.

The feedback loop creates the cultural continuum, and the smaller detail provides the elements for change. The lesser the potential for affinity relationships with the hidden, the fewer such agents of change there are. In terms of effect, censorship and/or lower intelligence (ie, more compact cognitive dynamics) lead to stagnation, to rigidity. Given the relationship between input and the creation of clusters, censorship, in other words paucity of information, makes for compact dynamics.

Conversely, their opposites create the framework for adaptability, progress, and so evolution. Both can be readily observed in the real. 

The two images represent a metaphor to the above. On the left is the original photo showing much detail (the ABC building during its construction at Southbank, Brisbane, Australia). On the right is the pixelated version. The mind is able to create a much more comprehensive 'story' from the first image, much less so from the second. As a consequence, the chance of anything else being related to the detailed content is considerably greater, giving rise to further TSs. Coarse TSs are far less fertile.

An example of the interplay between the conscious and the subconscious would be the concept of the 'demon lover', a conceptualisation of the hidden Eros seeking expression and so eloquently described in "Mad, Bad & Dangerous: The Demon Lover".

Where would Art be without our dark side?

Thursday 13 June 2013

Creativity - and its dark side I

The concept of creativity has always been surrounded by mystique. A thought that appears seemingly out of nowhere in often unrelated situations, and yet so welcome. Many people even ascribed its source to a god.

Still, under the perspective of cognitive dynamics it can be explained. And so, like much else in science, the previous mystery gets replaced by the awe before the sheer versatile complexity of nature.

To aid the understanding what follows, it may help the reader to go through the FAQs page  on the Otoom website for a primer, particularly on functionalities, abstractions, affinities and latency; they appear in that order. Not the full story by far, but it's a start.

State Law building, 50 Ann St, Brisbane, Australia. Its nickname is "Gotham City tower". Is that rendition a creative interpretation?

If there are thought structures (TSs) which define the content of a representative complex within the neurons (which is the result of some input), then, given the existence of ongoing dynamics, the non-existence of a cluster of TSs that could have been evoked is due to other TSs having been more influential.

The first question is, could the same input have been responsible for both - the existent TSs as well as the absent ones?

Since the emergence of a cluster is a function not only of input but also of the affinity relationships active within the functional scope of that neighbourhood, a certain input could indeed eventually create a cluster in one area but not in another.

The entire system is composed of neurons that are highly interconnected. It follows that outside the existent cluster there had been an insufficient effect from the input - in other words, there is latency but no instantiation of a re-representation. While the latency (ie, the non-instantiation) ensures non-representative clusters along the current timeline, it equally ensures the potential for a cumulative effect of affinities which at any given time lead to the formation of some other TS complex.

TSs of course not only occur in the grey matter of our brains but also in its white counterpart. Or, to put this another way, they are not only part of our conscious thought processes but they are also part of our subconscious.

Which leads to the next question: is it possible for latent structures to be a source of conscious thought?

For affinities to come into being they need an abundance of functional elements (the neurons in the wetware, the nodes in the computer program); they need connectivity; and they need the 'right' input, meaning input that represents a pattern, ie is not random. White matter fulfils the first condition (there are more neurons than in the grey matter) and it also possesses a high degree of connectivity. Which leaves us with the input.

The functional space of conscious TSs does not lend itself to random input, or any random data stream for that matter. There is also the distinct probability of potentially affinitive clusters. After all, the information content there has been derived from our subconscious via affinities in the first place.

The answer rests on the degree of variance within the conscious TSs such that an affinity event lies within the probability envelope of the subconscious TSs. Conscious TSs are more configured (since they rely on instantiated representative content) and hence possess less latency. Subconscious TSs on the other hand reside within a larger volume, have more latency, and in their ongoing dynamics are not restricted to preconfigured clusters.

If we take the affinities to be members of a set, and the conscious and subconscious clusters to be two particular sets, with the latter (B) being considerably larger than the former (A), we can express the issue as follows: what is more likely, one or more members of A occurring in B, or one or more members of B occurring in A?

In terms of probabilities the first scenario is more likely, provided we assume a finite and set pool from which all members of both sets are drawn. Although that assumption may seem rather inappropriate based on our analogy, it becomes less so once we consider that (a), the system is a dynamic one in which all information is a candidate for dispersal throughout the system on a continuing basis, and (b), the affinities (latent or otherwise) constitute the re-representative, ie processed, content of such input, that is to say, they have evolved under the same overall conditions and are subject to the same rules of complex, dynamic systems. In other words, we do have that pool from our analogy, except in our case the pool holds functionalities.

While realisations from latent affinities are not a certainty (after all, we are dealing with probabilities all the way through the process), these probabilities do not, cannot, have a zero value due to their very nature. Make the timeline long enough and some affinity relationship between a latent subconscious cluster and its conscious equivalent can develop. On the higher level of mental perception (ie, our human interpretation) there would be a train of thought suddenly being 'interrupted' by a seemingly new idea - except that the label 'new' only comes from our perception.

The latter excludes the subconscious by definition. So the idea is not 'new' at all; rather, it has been waiting in the wings all along, as it were. Hence creativity, the name given to that seemingly mysterious appearance of a novel idea, takes it mystery from the limited scope of our conscious thoughts, keeping all the other cognitive processes hidden from view. Yet they do exist, and under the right circumstances they pop into our awareness.

And the dark side? Because thoughts so suddenly appearing in our consciousness start their formation in the subconscious where our will to invite or suppress does not apply, we have no control over their presence. Our social constraints hold no sway, and still they are the children of nature; our nature.

To paraphrase Angela Carter, unbidden they come.

Creativity - and its dark side II 

Thursday 23 May 2013


What does it mean to be at home?

  • when you speak using a certain inflection and the other knows exactly what you mean;
  • when you leave a sentence hanging in mid-air and it says more than any words;
  • when you make a small gesture and it conveys a whole story;
  • when you don't say anything and everybody understands;
  • when you don't mistake your friends for adversaries and adversaries for friends;
  • where there is no need to retreat into a state of separateness in the face of some negativity.
  • when you do the right thing with no instructions needed;
  • when everybody behaves the same way because the situation means the same to everybody;
  • when something can be handled at a distance because direct feedback is unnecessary;
  • when a group performs in unison without a specially prepared script;
  • where simple silence is just as meaningful.
  • when the beginning of a story is enough to evoke its meaning;
  • when a memory from one's youth can be shared as if it had been an experience for all;
  • when the intent behind a myth serves as the explanation;
  • when a piece of history can be used as a gateway by everyone;
  • when there is a problem and all parties speak from a similar context;
  • where criticism does not automatically imply the categorising into some 'other', simply because there is no 'other'.
How many of us can say the above happens to them once a day, once a week, once a month - ever?

Thursday 2 May 2013

Is this scary?

The unexpected is sometimes scary. I don't mean waiting for a bus and now there are two; or getting a letter from someone after years of silence.

I mean situations that burst into our personal mind space dislodging what has become accepted as usual. Suddenly there is something else, and it just shouldn't be there.

At the very least it can be unsettling.

There is a Japanese ghost story which unfolds along these lines. I don't know its author, or whether it has been told and retold through the ages.

It goes like this:

Back in the feudal days a wide avenue skirted the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. One late night a farmer made his way home, alone on this wide, deserted street. Suddenly he noticed a little girl, all by herself hunched on the kerb. He went up to her and said, "Hello, little girl, what are you doing all alone this late at night?" But the girl did not move. So the farmer went closer and asked again, "My child, is there anything wrong?" Then slowly the girl raised her head, and her face was smooth like an egg.

In Melbourne there is a small niche at the end of Degraves Street which is filled with graffiti. It reminded me of that ghost story.

Would the following situations be scary?

Lying alone in bed at night, sticking your foot out and suddenly feeling some touch.

Looking over your shoulder in a dark and lonely street, over and over again (try it!).

Closing your eyes for a moment, opening them again but you can't see.

Closing your eyes for a moment, opening them again and suddenly there is a face staring at you.

Your daily routine involves getting up in the morning and catching a train to work. One day you think the alarm clock is wrong, you get up in a hurry and rush to the station. There you notice the clocks don't work either. At that moment, what is your perception of time? Have you ever experienced this?

We like to believe life is ordered. Yet it doesn't take much to shatter our peace.

Thursday 18 April 2013

The self-strangulating society

Definitions of society abound. In many cases they explain more about the persons offering them than about society.

From a more general perspective this large-scale human activity system we call society can be described in terms of two sets: the rulers and the ruled.

(To forestall any misunderstanding – by ‘rulers’ I mean those members of society who exert an influence over others, however subliminally or accommodating the others, the ruled in this case, may be in their response)

Rulers evoke dynamics that are acting downwards, towards those they influence. The ruled either merely adjust their behaviour or their reaction is more antagonistic. In both cases their dynamics are acting upwards.

These dynamics are generally fluid. At any given time their source can experience a role reversal. For example, a response can be so dramatic it forces the rulers to defend themselves, or an authority might adjust its behaviour because of the feedback it receives.

Since any system needs resources to function at all, a society can be said to represent a human activity system that has the space, the members, and the resources to perform in terms of a given set of dynamics in the form of a mutually interdependent framework. Take any one of those elements away, or diminish their capacity for that matter, and the system will lose its aggregate whole. That is to say, its functional details will have lost their capacity to play their - mutually interdependent – role.

Note that any labeling under the auspices of politics, ideology, religion, any judgmental description that might be applied through some ethics or morals, does not come into it. All those are interpretations by someone, they sit aside the system itself. Just like electricity operates according to Maxwell's equations and something like lightening, or heaters, or a cosy atmosphere are human descriptions of the same phenomenon.

In that sense complex, interdependent systems define themselves according to their respective capacity to realise their potential within their neighbourhood. It is this capacity which can be observed from various positions within the system and as a consequence gives rise to this or that label, sometimes followed by arguments about the ultimate truthfulness of the label. As far as the latter is concerned there is no ultimate truth.

What the members of a society make of themselves, or what others make of them, can be as varied as circumstances or perceptual triggers are able to evoke.

Suppose some divers come across a scene such as the one below:

What thoughts would cross their minds? Their assumptions, however realistic or otherwise, become part of the definition. To what extent these survive is a matter for the aggregate ambience and how much room it gives to its imagery.

Human activity systems are first and foremost complex systems. The reality is far more faceted than the dichotomy of ruler and ruled suggests. Such labels are in themselves rather ambiguous. A ruler needs a target; the target requires the awareness of being ruled. The more complex the society, the more variance it possesses, the more types of rules and their respective foci it can entertain.

To rule, and to live under a rule, requires resources. Rich, complex societies have the capacity to furnish the controlling layers - whoever or whatever they may be - with the necessary means to sustain their dynamics. The result is a steady growth of controlling entities.

The society's wealth ensures their survival and the variance of the society guarantees enough opportunities without having to fight for space. As long as the supply routes remain intact the system becomes subject to ever more regulatory frameworks. Indeed, members who are ruled over in one context may well decide the most convenient solution is to become an authority themselves.

Should the resources become jeopardised, the alternative mentioned above becomes less and less viable and the dynamics acquire a competitive aspect.

The strangulating web they altogether weave becomes a prison of convenience. A grotesque version of a mutual admiration society in which the shared mediocrity is used as a seemingly bottomless bag of spoils with something for everyone. And, like ruling classes everywhere, none of them give up their place willingly.

One could say our obsession with economic growth stems from the subconscious fear of having to fight for one’s preferences should the resources dry up.

How then to define society? Take your pick.

Thursday 10 January 2013

Perpetual motion and poverty

Perpetual motion engines are a figment of some people's imagination. The Law of Thermodynamics tells us that. Every now and then one comes across a truly elaborate contraption, as if the builder had intended to push the moment of reckoning as far as possible into the future (examples). No matter; the total energy in a closed system is constant.

Yet the laws of physics are not restricted to mechanical, electrical or chemical devices, they apply to nature in general. It is here one gets the impression the rules about energy-in and energy-out are sometimes quietly forgotten.

Take the phenomenon of poverty. There are some who believe it can be abolished if only the right policies were applied. Others simply don't care. It also means different things to different societies (compare Australia with Nigeria for example), but more of this later.

What follows is a view that brings the principle of finite energy to the issue.

To set the scene, let's consider a simple mechanical device first. Suppose our 'engine', a system, consists of three subsystems which need energy to operate. Let's call them A, B, and C. If each subsystem (a wheel, a lever, or whatever) needs 100 energy units to work, and if A performs its complete function within 1 time unit t, B does it within 2 time units, and C needs 4, the total power for the system can be expressed through the following equation:

This applies to the ideal case where waste (for example, in the form of friction) does not occur. Since P equals energy over time (E/t), the amount of energy this particular system needs is 42.86 energy units:

leading to 

Yet wastage does exist; the technical term is entropy. Let's call it x, and so the new equation is as follows:

and using our previous performance values it becomes

If x = 0.2, so that the performance of each subsystem is now of t - x duration, the result is

Since we expressed the entire system's operation as a ratio of time, then with wastage included the total amount of energy needed has increased if the duration should remain the same as in the first example.

Use anything you like for A, B, and C and the relationships between energy and performance are the same.

We can turn this around and say, if the supply of energy to a given system is fixed, and if one of its modules experiences a shortfall caused by wastage or demand or anything unforeseen, then the performance of the affected module will have decreased.

Society can be seen as a system (one of the advantages of the Otoom model). There are subsystems and sub-subsystems and so on, and they can be identified in terms of energy needed, their respective performance, and also their wastage.

Overall the energy is fixed too, although a complex dynamic system allows temporary measures to be taken so that it may appear to the members as if more energy is there for the taking. Yet, as the Law of Thermodynamics states, the total energy in a closed system is constant and entropy is being produced. In the end, human activity systems are part of a closed system.

While the subsystems etc are mutually interdependent, they are also semi-autonomous because humans entertain choices and act on them. Therefore a shortfall somewhere (which, after all, is inevitable) becomes subject to compensatory measures due to our competitive and assertive nature.

Which module, and so who will be left with the effects of the resultant shortage becomes a function of those members' particular inability to overcome the pressures from the rest.

The end result is poverty - manifest through the lack of means to attract more energy per se. Since most societies use money as a means to express the value of goods and services, in practical terms poverty means less money compared to the rest. What qualities (in the positive as well as the negative sense) play a role during the process of energy and performance distribution depends on the overall values a society has at any given time.

For example (somewhat simplified but not unrealistic), artists become less valued in times of war compared to members of the military. When peace returns the situation can be reversed: soldiers descend the social ladder, artists ascend.

The rather harsh conclusion is that poverty is here to stay; first and foremost not for reasons of ethics, politics or some ideology, but because reality says so.

Political leaders will hardly admit as much but, on the other hand, facing reality usually leads to solutions that may not be ideal but are still better in relative terms. The main issue under the circumstances would be a realistic differentiation of values that are desirable in a modern society. Traditional attitudes formed by religion, their secular ideological counterparts, and temporary fashions are not necessarily the rational arbiters of contributive aspects within a population. Haphazard allocations of finite resources exacerbate the potential failures in a system exposed to the vagaries of nature.

In a general sense the welfare safety net established in the West provides unemployment benefits to those out of work. Regardless of the reasons for the predicament (to precisely identify those would require additional resources anyway) the unemployed are not completely deprived of resources. However, there is a variety of causes for being essentially unemployable, and even a relatively generous welfare system such as Australia’s does not address the incidence of poverty should such a condition eventuate beyond the scope of a particular individual. Although resources would be needed for the system to become fairer, when considering the wider picture they should have a higher priority than many other expenditures entertained today. As it is, the innate potential of that demographic is lost to society.

In any case, whatever path a society takes, the laws of physics will always have the last word.